Sunday, April 01, 2018

London International Ska Festival

It's 50 years since Trojan was launched as a reggae and ska record label and 30 years since the inaugural London International Ska Festival took place. Now a regular fixture over the Easter weekend, this year's festival has featured some of the bigger names of sixties ska, including the Clarendonians, Doreen Shaffer of the Skatalites, Otis Gayle, Derrick Morgan, Freddie Notes, Horace Andy and Johnny Clarke.
Last night's show, at the O2 Academy in Islington, starred Ken Boothe and the original Aces, who backed Desmond Dekker back in the day. And an enjoyable evening it was too, once the rather annoying two tone group  who were on stage when I arrived finished. Presenting a full set, before backing Ken and the Aces, were Pama International a fairly authentic ska band of recent vintage who have recorded for Trojan. Featuring a horn section and two female singers (pictured below), the eight piece band sounded just about right on Phoenix City and several big hits from the ska era sung by Cara, a dreadlocked young lady who danced around the stage and got the large crowd well involved. Numbers included Let Your Yeah Be Yeah, John Holt's version of Help Me Make It Through the Night, two classic Phyllis Dillon songs, Perfidia and Don't Stay Away, Just My Imagination and the Melodians' Sweet Sensation. The second singer, who also played guitar, sang Susan Cadogan's take on Hurt So Good, a little screechily I thought, but effective none the less.
The band stayed on stage to support the star acts and it was time for the original Aces - three of them dressed in red shirts and black waist coats, including two lead singers and a guitarist. It was a short set, featuring just three Desmond Dekker hits - It Miek, The Israelites and 007 (Shanty Town) - but highly enjoyable, their voices strong and melodic. A singalong section on 007 went down particularly well and their 15 minutes on stage was rather less than most of us wanted. I for one could have happily listened to double that.
Any disappointment was soon forgotten, however, as they gave way to Ken Boothe, now aged 70, who looked slim and trim, wearing a pale blue suit and white silk scarf. After a subdued first number, which revealed that his voice is a little ragged these days, he got the audience swaying along to one of his best known songs Crying Over You. His next number, the upbeat Artibella, showed that Ken can still move with the best of them, and his final number Everything I Own went down a storm with an appreciative audience, who, it has to be said, never stopped swaying and dancing all evening. The main criticism I have was that Ken was on stage for less than half an hour so it was not particularly good value for money.
It's clear that ska and rocksteady continue to have a big following, even though I suspect that most of the audience came to it via the two tone movement rather than from sixties originals, judging by the average age of the audience. If only transport in London worked properly over the Easter weekend I would go to more of the festival events, but at least I beat the lack of trains by driving up to town on this occasion.


At 6:53 pm , Blogger Dave C said...

The full five-song setlist for Ken Boothe was as follows:

1 Playground In My Mind (a cover of a 1972 Clint Holmes recording, which appeared on Ken’s 1974 album, Everything I Own)
2 Crying Over You (1974)
3 Artibella (1970)
4 Moving Away (a 1968 Studio One recording)
5 Everything I Own (1974)


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